“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace to earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on, there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” – Luke 12:49-53
In the word “fire”, Jesus demonstrates his commitment to us. He brought fire to earth, not to make things smolder and burn in a heap. His is the fire of love, his love that was obedient unto death, so that from his cross and empty tomb, he set our hearts on fire for God.
The evangelist, in the text, records this statement of Jesus: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” When Jesus made this statement, he was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time.
The cross loomed large on the horizon. The impending crisis of Christ’s crucifixion was before him. Therefore, when Jesus said the word fire, he was stirred up with determination to fulfill his life’s destiny.
He cried out, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized and what stress I am under until it is completed!” Stress? In our mind’s picture of Christ, we do not see stress. We visualize a picture of a kind and gentle man dandling children on his knees and carrying lost lambs on his strong shoulders. He is peaceful, loving and good.
When Jesus spoke those words, and some 60 years later when Luke wrote them, a decision to follow Christ exposed believers to rejection in their communities. At various periods in the history of the early church, professing faith in Christ, in many cases, led to persecution.
For some, it meant crucifixion or other painful death. It was obviously a great risk to be a Christian in those days.
Sometimes, the consequence was a disruption in family life. Some parents did not understand why their grown children would risk their lives for the teaching of a simple carpenter from Galilee.
Some children could not believe their parents had joined a group started by a political radical, whom the Romans crucified. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law found themselves on opposite sides of the fence.
All of this happened because of Jesus’ teachings. Division, rather than peace, came to many families because of the gospel.
This is still evident in our world today. Even though the consequences have not been so drastic for most of us, this same Christ calls for such commitment today as he brings us the fire of his love and commitment.
Jesus yelled “fire” to purge us of the desire for a comfortable pew and a powerless faith in a do-nothing church. Yes, this faith calls for a heartfelt commitment, not a sentimental, lukewarm curiosity.
Our baptism calls for a faith strong enough to take on those twists and turns, funny and not so funny bounces of life. In the words of St. Paul: We are “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) Amen.
• Reverend Samuel M. Boodle, pastor at the Lutheran Church of Nassau, 119 John F. Kennedy Dr can be reached at P.O. Box N 4794, Nassau, Bahamas; or telephone 426-9084; website: www.nassaulutheranchurch.org.